HIV-AIDS vaccines: Where are we now and where are we heading?

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“Turning the Tide Together” was the slogan of the 19th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), the world’s largest periodic gathering of HIV/AIDS researchers, held last July in Washington, D.C. The theme was an appropriate one: the tide within the HIV research community has indeed turned in recent years for the better. Let’s briefly review why. As Diane Havlir, M.D. and Chris Beyrer, M.D., recently noted in the pages of The New England Journal of Medicine, “We are at a moment of extraordinary optimism in the response to [HIV].” They go on to highlight several factors driving this optimism: a sequence of scientific advances including several trials demonstrating the partial efficacy of oral and topical chemoprophylaxis and the first signs of efficacy for an HIV vaccine candidate; evidence for the first cure of an HIV-infected person; and the result that early initiation of anti-retroviral therapy can both enhance outcomes and lower the potential for HIV transmission to sexual partners by 96%. This latter advance, write Havlir and Beyrer, “has led many to assert what had so long seemed impossible: that control of the HIV pandemic may be achievable.”

Indeed, significant progress is being made toward the creation of an effective vaccine. In autumn 2009, a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health in Thailand, the U.S. Military, and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) announced the first encouraging results from an efficacy trial—31% prevention of infection in a 16,402-person community-based trial in Thailand. This result achieved significance in an analysis that excluded seven subjects who were found to have been infected at the time of the first vaccination, demonstrating for the first time that an HIV vaccine could prevent infection.

In short, as we ponder the progress that has been made in developing an HIV/AIDS vaccine and look to the future advancements of these efforts, we have cause for optimism. The AIDS vaccine field has generated evidence for the ability of vaccines to prevent HIV infection in humans, and there is hope that the low levels of prevention achieved thus far can be enhanced by regular boosting. The field has also developed new nonhuman primate models for testing vaccines, enabling researchers to clearly distinguish the ability of prototype simian vaccines to prevent infection. I am confident vaccines will conquer the AIDS pandemic. Tremendous progress has been and is continuing to be made.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

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